The 2004 discovery of a 1-meter-tall, ancient human (named Homo floresiensis, and nicknamed “the hobbit”) sparked great interest in the scientific community, but until recently only a single fossil had been found. Last month, however, scientists discovered another fossil on the Indonesian island of Flores, only 74 kilometers from the original dig.
In an article published in the journal Nature, researchers described the fossil, which consisted of fragments of jaw and isolated teeth. In the article, they claim that the fossils’ size suggests that they either belong to Homo floresiensis or its recent ancestor. Responding to the article, Bridget Alex, a research fellow at Harvard College, comments, “I would say it’s promising and parsimonious to attribute the fossils to Homo floresiensis, but we are probably biased to underestimate the types of humans running around a few hundred thousand years ago.”
While the findings may be extraordinary, Holly Elmore, a PhD student at Harvard University puts the discovery in perspective. “Size seems like a dramatic evolutionary change, but actually there are many instances of species rapidly changing size (especially on islands),” she comments. “We only started domestication dogs 16000 years ago, and today we have everything from Chihuahuas to Great Danes!”
Nevertheless, the discovery still adds to our knowledge of human evolution, and it will be interesting to see what new fossils will be uncovered in the coming years.
Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Dr. Bridget Alex, a College Fellow in Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, and Holly Elmore, a PhD candidate in Organism and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, for helpful discussions and comments.